Phone Hacking

Part of Business of the House (Today) – in the House of Commons at 1:42 pm on 6th July 2011.

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Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Shadow Minister (Justice) (Political and Constitutional Reform) 1:42 pm, 6th July 2011

I will not, if Members do not mind. Many others wish to speak.

I know that there are those who argue that there cannot be a public inquiry during an ongoing investigation—and I noted the Prime Minister’s earlier comments, when he seemed to vacillate in relation to when that process could or could not start—but I think they are wrong. Indeed, I consider it vital for the police investigation to be supplemented by a public inquiry. First, some of the issues that need to be addressed may not be criminal, but they do strike at the heart of what an ethical code for the media should look like in this country. Secondly, although I have confidence in the officers who are conducting the Weeting investigation, I fear that the rug could be pulled from under their feet at any moment, and there is no certainty about when their investigations will be completed. By the time they are done, many of those involved may have left the scene or, more worryingly, shredded the evidence—or, of course, discovered selective amnesia.

That is why it is vital that an inquiry be set up as soon as possible and as soon as practicable, led by a judge with full powers to summon witnesses who must give evidence under oath. Of course the inquiry should not sit in public until the investigations are complete—I hope that that answers the question asked by Sir Alan Beith—but an astute judge can easily manage the relationship between a police investigation and an inquiry, prepare evidence, and secure witnesses without compromising any criminal investigation or prosecution.

I am confident that the Prime Minister agrees with that. After all—as was mentioned earlier—a year ago today he announced an inquiry, to be led by Sir Peter Gibson, into allegations of the torture of detainees. He appointed two other members to it, and said that he hoped it would start by the end of last year and be completed within a year. Indeed, he expressly pointed out that he was setting up the inquiry despite the fact that criminal investigations were still ongoing. My right hon. Friend Mr Straw, the former Lord Chancellor—and Foreign Secretary, and holder of many other posts besides—has received a letter about the Gibson inquiry which makes the position very clear. It states:

The Inquiry has not yet started as we are still awaiting the conclusion of two related police investigations into the Security Service and SIS.”

None the less, says the letter, “preparatory matters” are in hand. That is precisely what I believe should happen in this case.